“By blending tradition and modernity, abstract and figurative, I hope to tell the tale of two unique places that have long been considered crossroads of civilization.”
What is place? Is it where we are on a GPS? Is it a location in space-time of which we can barely grasp the nature, or simply what we see around us at the moment?
For each of us, where we are is a spot on a unique continuum. The time line of an individual life travels through each location, and the nature of the place and its position on that line is only perceived, understood, and given character in relation to the rest of the line, by the person engaged in contemplating being there.
In a recent series of paintings, New York artist Fedele Spadafora, already known for intimate portrayals of the inner life of the City, explores and evokes his captured impressions of two faraway places that spurred his interest and imagination.
“In these new paintings I am exploring memory and impressions set in the post-revolutionary societies of Tunisia (2010) and the Czech Republic (1989), where I observed these monumental moments in world history firsthand,” says Spadafora, who lived in Prague for 6 years and now spends time in Tunisia, the homeland of his wife, photographer Aida Ben Hamouda. “Drawing upon these experiences, coupled with imagination, I'm filling my canvases with vivid colors and designs that evoke references to the transformative works of Paul Klee in Tunisia, along with heavier and darker atmospheres calling to mind the graphic works of Bruno Schultz. “
Spadafora approached these works in various ways – some were plein air paintings, others studio paintings created from field studies, photographs and/or memory. The common palette, subtle yet distinctive, is a visual through line clearly stating that these works belong together in a world that is very real, yet not like any we have ever seen. But that is not the first characteristic that strikes the viewer and impels us to find coherence in the group. There is a sense, upon entering the space with these paintings, that you have entered a story because, in fact, you have.
Seeing in the artist’s studio that these works pulled together visions from across his travels in space-time to bring you to an impossible landscape, I recalled a term from my early studies in film – creative geography. It refers to the practice of editing together footage from more than one location in such a way that they appear to be contiguous, thus making real for the audience a location that only exists in the film.
In this case, the geography being depicted is real and whole in the mind of the artist. Through his gifts and efforts we are able to actually see and respond to his unique vision of these pivotal places in his life. As the auteur of this body of work, Spadafora composed a visual intertextuality that incorporates these locations into one world. We are invited to leap into this world, to experience his singular memory.
The smaller work serving as the point of entry to this intention, “The Bridge, ” is an abstracted representation of the Charles Bridge in Prague designated by the artist to fill just that need: “In this piece I wanted to show the mark making impulse that I started in the larger pieces in a reduced and simple form. The concept of the bridge is important to me. There are things that need to be connected,” he explains. “The bridge is a kind of self portrait as I, the artist, am what connects these works … they are my experiences. I have had a foot in both civilizations.”
While bringing together a group of paintings into one seamless, transparent visual narrative, Spadafora stepped slightly out of frame to punctuate the series with 2 small canvases that, while readable as part of the whole also underline and acknowledge the connection between how this series works and filmic paradigms by depicting images from films of the speculative fiction genre – “Phase IV,” from the eponymous 1974 sci-fi film, and “Tusken Raider” from the Star Wars canon of George Lucas. Despite being twice removed from what we call “real” (by virtue of being set in the invented reality of movies, plus, in this case, realities that are unlike our own), they are as concrete and believable as the other works, and perhaps even more so – emphasizing the power of art to suspend disbelief, heighten experience and transform perception.
Falling Star in Djerba Sky (study)
An artist can transform even his own perception during the exploration of subject.
Another small piece, “Falling Star in Djerba Sky,” was originally imagined as “as an apocalyptic event bringing mass destruction.” In contemplation of Tunisia and the events of the Arab Spring (he depicts a pivotal tragic act, the self-immolation of a Tunisian street vendor in protest of his brutal treatment by the government, in another canvas), Spadafora came to see it as more of an event that alters the consciousness of the people. “In Muslim tradition, it is said that demons can be found listening at the gates of heaven where they hope to acquire fragments of knowledge of things that are to happen in the future. This knowledge can be used against humanity,” he said. “When seen by angels, these demons are pelted by shooting stars to drive them away.”
New York City, March, 2013
Slag Contemporary, Bushwick
56 Bogart Street
March 22-April 20, 2013
Opening reception: March 22, 6-9 p.m.
Falling Star in Djerba Sky (triptych)
all images courtesy and (c) Fedele Spadafora, all rights reserved